Nyala Park: Under the Fever Trees
This being Saturday, I had time to do a long run and so I ran to Chididi. The locals have been slashing and burning their land preparing for the growing season. Ashes covered our porches and in the morning the smog hid the mountains and one could smell the smoky air. Two nights ago we could see fire in the mountains. This reminded me of my overnight train ride from Bangkok to Chieng Mai to spend some time near the mountains there last year, only to be disappointed in the morning by heavy smog obscuring the mountains from the farmers’ slash and burn method of farming. For about a mile the route to Chididi was all uphill with the last stretch being quite steep. Here I found a group of seven girls waiting at the top cheering me on. They probably climbed this hill everyday carrying a heavy load and knew how hard it was to scale it. I only had to carry myself.
A few weeks ago it was announced to the entire staff that we would have a team building activity this weekend day at the Nyala Park. The staff would be provided with transportation and entrance fees but lunch would be pot-luck. At first this was met with enthusiasm but apparently as the days went on there was a movement to boycott the event because someone thought that lunch should be provided as well. None of us expats knew about the displeasure among the other staff and the event was canceled the last minute.
Five of us including the driver decided that we would make this our private trip and paid for it ourselves . It was a two hour drive over bumpy road, passing a few towns which were having their market days. Kaunjika or second-hand clothes seemed to dominate the scene. Illovo Sugar Cane Plantation spans acres and acres of land next to the Shire River and this private company has an elaborate system of irrigation, housing, schools healthcare centers, sport clubs in well-kept gardens; a tiny self-sufficient kingdom within Malawi providing many people with gainful employment.
Nyala Park is very small and one could go through it in an hour and there were no Big Five. Two of the three buffaloes ran away during the flooding season leaving one in the park which was difficult to spot. There were nyalas, impalas, kudus, wildebeests, zebras, vervet monkeys and my favorite animals, the giraffes; the two mothers just had their babies ten days ago. The babies stared at us for a long time. We spotted a zebra following a giraffe as it was loping away as though the giraffe was its mommy.
We spread our mat and had a picnic under a forest of fever trees-- a perfect and lovely spot. Fever trees are a kind of acacia trees with yellow trunks. Early European explorers mistook them for the cause of malaria fever because the skin of people afflicted with malaria turned yellow. Ruyard Kipling’s in his “The Elephant’s Child”, a short story in his collection of “Just So Stories” mentioned the fever trees: “ Then Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, 'Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.', when the Elephant’s child wanted to know what a crocodile ate for dinner. I had been to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River in South Africa but I was high up on the platform, safe from the crocodiles. However I did not spot any crocodiles but indeed there was an abundance of fever trees.